The Case For Reforming The District of Columbia`s Gun Laws

Posted on March 7, 2011

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H.R. 645, the "Second Amendment Enforcement Act," introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), would end D.C.`s prohibition on using guns for self-defense in one`s home and conform other D.C. gun laws to federal laws, while retaining stiff penalties for illegal gun possession, gun crimes. It would do none of the things claimed by anti-gun groups. Rep. Ross introduced similar legislation in the 110th Congress.

The legislation is long overdue. In 1976, D.C.`s City Council thumbed its nose at Congress, the 14th Amendment`s guarantee of "equal protection of the laws," and the rest of the U.S., and began conducting a social experiment of its own design against the city`s law-abiding residents. The experiment, unlike anything known elsewhere in America, took the form of the Firearms Control Regulations Act, which required that firearms kept at home be rendered useless for protection by being "unloaded, disassembled, or bound by a trigger lock or similar device." It required that all privately owned firearms be registered, and prohibited possession of a handgun not registered with city police prior to Sept. 24, 1976, and re-registered by Feb. 5, 1977.

The results have been catastrophic. Since D.C. imposed its 1976 laws, it has earned the unfortunate distinction, "murder capital of the United States." D.C.`s murder rate had been declining before 1976, but it increased thereafter. Between 1976-1991, it rose 200%, while the U.S. murder rate rose only 9%. (FBI, D.C. Police)

  • The District`s prohibition on possession of firearms for defense at home conflicts with Congress` stated purpose in passing the Gun Control Act (1968). Section 101 of that law states "[I]t is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary Federal restrictions or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession, or use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of hunting, trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity, and that this title is not intended to discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes. . ." (Emphasis added.)
  • D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the U.S. that prohibits keeping firearms in an operable condition at home, for defense against criminal attack. The right to be secure in one`s home is an ages-old right affirmed in law and court decisions, but curtailed in D.C.
  • The District should not criminalize self-defense when it cannot defend people. As legal scholars Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond have written, "[A] society with a dismal record of protecting a people has a dubious claim on the right to disarm them. . . . [I]t is unwise to place the means of protection totally in the hands of the state. . . ." ("The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration," Gun Control and the Constitution: Sources and Explorations on the Second Amendment, ed., Robert J. Cottrol, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Law, 1994, p. 427.)
  • The District should not criminalize self-defense when it is not legally obligated to defend people. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled that the city`s police department is "not generally liable to victims of violent criminal acts for failure to provide adequate police protection. . . ." (Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1, 1981)
  • D.C.`s gun law forces law-abiding people to choose between protecting their lives and obeying the law. Former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman, after retiring from office, said: "Honest people don`t have guns and criminals do. I think people have a right to protect themselves. I was outraged to learn that I couldn`t legally have a gun in Washington. Despite the law, I kept one in my office and one in my apartment, because there were plenty of armed criminals roaming the streets of Washington." (Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate, 1996, p.40)
  • Allowing citizens to defend themselves at home deters criminals. A study for the U.S. Department of Justice found that 40% of felons have decided to not commit one or more crimes for fear their potential victims were armed. (James D. Wright and Peter H. Rossi, Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms, 1986, p. 155.)
  • The District`s prohibition against using firearms for defense against violent criminal attack increases the likelihood that crime victims will be injured by their assailants. National Crime Victimization Surveys show: "Robbery and assault victims who used a gun to resist were less likely to be attacked or to suffer an injury than those who used any other methods of self-protection or those who did not resist at all." (Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns, 1997, p. 171).
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